During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) patriotic stationery—illustrated letterheads and envelopes—was widely used, particularly for letters to and from the battlefront. These envelopes are known to collectors as “patriotic covers.” However, the first picture-backed government-issued postal cards were produced in Austria-Hungary, and the images depicted the Franco-Prussian War. Nearly three million of these cards sold in 1870.

The popularity of postcards began to decline during World War I. At the time, many American companies had designed their own postcards, but they had been shipped to Germany or Austria for high-quality and low-cost printing. Even English publishers, like Raphael Tuck and Sons, had their cards printed in Germany or Austria. Thus the Great War, beginning in 1914, disrupted the production of cards. Plus, the somber mood created by the conflict made postcards seem like disrespectful frivolities. In 1918, the postage rates for postcards doubled, and after the war, telephones became the preferred means for staying in touch.

Even so, U.S. manufacturers began to produce their own cards around 1915. These were much lower in quality, as lush lithography was replaced by half-tone process printing, and they generally had a white border. But the war was a compelling reason to send postcards across the Atlantic in both directions, as soldiers and their loved ones exchanged updates via post. Wartime postcards most often depicted military leaders, officers, and soldiers, as well as explosions and bombed-out buildings.

In Europe, the war was all-consuming, resulting in a plethora of propaganda postcards which solidified the divide between “us” and “them” on both sides. “Positive” propaganda cards rallied both the Allies and Central Powers to fight “For King and Country.” On the other hand, “negative” propaganda cards were designed to ridicule and belittle enemies.

Central Powers postcards asserted the superiority of German people and technology and the inferiority of the Allies. In such comic cards, the Allies would be subjected to a demeaning type of punishment reserved for children or dogs. Even the German mythological figure Michel, who represents the laid-back and gentle side of the national character, was depicted as an aggressor. The Allies would often be portrayed as animals that did not deserve human respect.

Some of the most powerful anti-German propaganda postcard sets were produced by Italian postcard artist Tito Corbell, who made an important series of cards telling the story of nurse Edith Cavell, who was killed by German soldiers. Collectors, however, tend to favor Corbell’s more lighthearted work, like his images of glamorous women.

In England, the Bamforth publishing company, known for its mildly risqué “seaside” cards, produced many mocking and emasculating cards against the Germans. British historian G.M...

The most beautiful cards made during World War I are known as “silks.” French and Belgian refugee women would embroider designs on silk—usually incorporating British, French, and American flags—and ship them to factories to be trimmed and mounted onto postcard backs. These were tremendously popular with American and British soldiers stationed in France; it’s estimated that more than 10 million were produced before they died out in 1923.

Some of these postcards had flaps so that a tiny printed greeting card could be slipped between the silk and backboard. Generally they lack postage stamps because they were sent in Military Mail pouches at no charge to the soldier.

Silks were different from “linens,” a new kind of postcard that emerged post-World War I, made from an uncoated card stock that had a fabric-like texture and tended to feature garish colors. During World War II, as in the first world war, servicemen could send postcards home for free. Postcards became an important and easy means for soldiers to connect with their families, wives, and girlfriends back home, a quick way to let them know, “I’m still alive and thinking about you.”

Naturally, postcards were used for propaganda during World War II. Many of these propaganda postcards were relatively innocuous, sent within the U.S. and to and from soldiers, cheerleading the war effort. Evidence also suggests, though, that “black” propaganda postcards were used by the U.S. as a part of psychological warfare.

The Office of Strategic Services put out postcards that appeared to be German in origin, using real German postcard images and German wording that opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party, intended to suggest there was a strong anti-Fascist underground movement. Documentation indicates these cards were printed at a press taken over by the Morale Operation department of the OSS. As these cards were likely destroyed by the Nazis, they are extremely rare; only a few examples are known to exist today.

But for loved ones back home in America, the most popular kinds of cards to send to the boys overseas are what are known as “arcade postcards” or “girlie cards.” Based on the pin-ups of Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, George Petty, Alberto Vargas, and others, these images of sexy ladies were meant to cheer up and provide a well-earned diversion to war-weary soldiers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]



Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1916~2 Postcards China Sent By Foochow Missionary Dr Kinnear Medicine Prices WwiRppc~1918~ww1 Blimp~key West,fl~fec Railroad~dirigible Hangar~naval Air StationL737 Lot Of 4 Vintage World War Ii Era Hitler Stamps PostcardsJapanese Card Map Of Korea Military Leaders Plane Soldiers 1917 Special CancelSt.louis Ww-1 1914 Bottle Beer Advertising Lemp Brewery Pc - Falstaff Serenade.General Fierro, Villa, Scott Mexican Border War - W.h. Horne Rppc PostcardWw2 Era Germany Adolf Hitler Postcard, UnusedSmith Guns Hunter Arms Co., Fulton, Ny Early Gun Factory PostcardWw1, British Rest Camp, 1918, Italy, Faenza. 12 X Postcards In Booklet. (3257)China Russian Japan War Geisha Fan & Flags Japanese Publisher 1904 Cds Stamp -08Ww1 First Dive, Diver With Diving Helmet Comic Postcard Our Sailors Series52442335 - Niobrara, Ne Indian War Dance Rppc 1910China Russian Japan War Crowds Cheer Troops Japanese Publisher 1904 Cds Stamp 16China Russian Japan War Soldiers Cutting Through Japanese Publisher 1904 - 20Bea British East Africa Akikuyu Man In War Attire Italia Torinesi Rp Pc E20c -35Ww1 Christmas Card 46th (north Midland) Division 1917 - 1918 Signaller F Stock.Ww1 Military Rp Lancashire Regiment Landing At Cape Helles - GallipoliWwii French Postcard Soldiers Artillery Liberation De Paris Ww2 France Post CardWorld War 1 Dcli Rp Card A Coy 7th Battalion Duke Of Cornwall's Light InfantryRed Cross Ww1 World War I Nurse Antique Photo Photograph Hand Colored Tinted1917 Ww1 Army Photos Camp Logan Motorcycle Sidecar Ford Model T House Houston TxChina Russian Japan War Woman & White Dove Of Peace Japanese Publisher 1904 - 11 Karafuto Sakhalin Isla / Japan Russia Old Pc Garrison SoldiersVintage Japan Postcard Yasukuni Shrine Army Propaganda Shinto Religious AntiqueVintage Japanese Postcards Yasukuni Shrine Army War Propaganda Shinto MilitaryWw2 Japan Navy Pc "sinking Of British Aircraft-carrier Hms Hermes" April 9 1942 Wwii Photo News Greater East Asia Conf. China 張景恵 汪兆銘 Japan Tojo Burma Ba Maw Tattoo Soldier W Okinawa Japanese Rppc Vintage Wwii Photo—marines? Navy? FoodChina War Propaganda Postcard ~1903Fl - 1930’s Florida Interior Starlight Club & Bar At Key West Fla - Navy MenChina Russian Japan War News Of Victory Japanese Postcard 1904 Cds Stamp - 24Paris France Cantine Militaire De La Croix Verte Soldiers & Nurses Wwi PostcardChina Russian Japan War Officers Discuss Tactics Japanese Pc 1904 Cds Stamp - 22Old Vintage Postcard United Spanish War Veterans United States Cuba Eagle FlagRare 1936 Copper Postcards Italy Ethiopia War Mussolini Fascist Party Clifton NjChina Russian Japan War Woman Plays Peace Pipes Japanese Pc 1904 Cds Stamp - 25China Russian Japan War Soldier Cuts Wires Japanese Publisher 1904 Cds Stamp 17China Russian Japan War Geisha Girl & Doll Japanese Publisher Postcard 1904 -13China Russian Japan War Woman & Lanterns Japanese Publisher 1904 Cds Stamp - 07Original German Postcard 1933-45 Ww2; Frauen Schaffen Fuer Euch; Home Front; S4Vintage Ww1 1918 Rppc Ymca Hut Carnegie Tech Pittsburgh Pa Billiards Pool HallWw1 Comic Postcard Suffragette Women War Worker Wearing On War Service BadgeWw1 Inter Art Political Patriotic Comic Postcard 1916 Ireland Home Rule ThemeChina Russian Japan War Young Woman & Nippon Flags Japanese Publisher 1904 - 10Ww1 Comic Postcard 1915 Anti Kaiser Canada India Australia New Zealand WalesChina Russian Japan War Mother Child Eating Ruins Japanese Publisher Pc 1904 -01Ww1 Hold To Light Puzzle Postcard 1914 1918 Post Office Letter Trench Life ThemeFort Worth Texas Tx Army Parade-real Photo Postcard-rppc-Old Postcard Military Of Germany Ii World War Iii German Reich 1934 WehrmachtGerman Marine Naval Games 1918 Battleships Postcard #3 U Boat Submarine AttackWwii China Japan War Commander Of Shanghai Landing Force Minister ShigemitsuMilitary Barracks Cathan Road - Kowloon, Hong Kong 1920 Stamped Mailed PostcardLot Of Wwi Us Military Postcards Rppc PhotoOriginal Art/hand-drawn 1914 Wwi Postcard: Soldiers In TrenchThe Great War Admiral - Thoroughbred Race Horse Vintage Linen PostcardVintage Ww1 Bamforth Comic Postcard 1918 Pig Bacon Eggs Rationing Card ThemeChina Russian Japan War Soldiers In Silhouette Japanese Publisher Pc 1904 - 21China Russian Japan War Soldier Rides Winged Horse Japanese Publisher 1904 - 18China Russian Japan War Two Soldiers Talk Together Japanese Publisher 1904 - 19China Russian Japan War Woman & Emperor Inset Japanese Publisher Pc 1904 - 02